Once upon a time, Newtown was a shabby industrial area, run down and dirty, a no-go area for locals and visitors alike. Today, as the result of a city regeneration project, Newtown is a thriving tourist attraction, a hip residential zone and one of Joburg’s top cultural areas.
From theatres and jazz clubs, art galleries, craft and flea markets to museums and spectacular street art, Newtown is alive with possibilities for even the most jaded traveller.
Easily accessible over the Nelson Mandela Bridge that links Newtown to trendy Braamfontein, and via the M1 highway from upmarket the suburbs of Rosebank and Sandton, Newtown is also a stop on the red City Sightseeing bus.
Expect history, entertainment, informal shopping, all kinds of good food and great music.
Take a guided heritage tour to check out some of Newtown’s turbulent history, and look out for an eclectic mix of architectural styles, from Victorian, Edwardian, beaux arts and art deco, to modern, postmodern and contemporary.
Also take note of the stunning public art commissioned from both famous artists and lesser-known ones, from the 560 carved wooden heads dotted all around the Newtown Precinct, to the Banner of Hope steel sculpture of the South African flag in front of the Sci-Bono Discovery Centre.
Mary Fitzgerald Square, Newtown’s core cultural precinct, is where you’ll find the world-famous Market Theatre, Museum Africa, and numerous music and dance venues.
In the dark days of apartheid, the Market Theatre, converted out of an old fruit and vegetable market in 1976, was a beacon of light as it staged anti-apartheid plays and performances challenging the oppressive regime. One of South Africa’s first theatres to have black and white actors together on the same stage, its history is inexorably entwined with South Africa’s struggle for social, cultural and political freedom.
If you’re a jazz fan, a session at Kippies, named after legendary saxophonist Kippie Moeketsi, and one of Johannesburg’s most famous jazz venues for decades, will keep your toes tapping.
If you’re a museum buff or love history, don’t miss Museum Africa, where you can browse not only photographs, paintings, artefacts and archaeological exhibits from the city’s past, but also learn about its social history when you listen to typical music at the Sounds of the City exhibit; discover Gandhi’s Johannesburg; learn about Nelson Mandela’s Treason Trial; walk into a shebeen; or shudder at the bunk room of one of the notorious migrant mineworker hostels.
A couple of blocks away is Southern Africa’s biggest science centre, the interactive Sci-Bono Discovery Centre that will keep you and the kids amused for hours.
Newtown is one of the busiest places in Johannesburg for events and happenings. If you’re in town at the right time, especially weekends, join in the fun at festivals such as the Joy of Jazz, the Diwali Festival, the Joburg Carnival, Joburg Arts Alive, SA Fashion Week and more.
And if you’ve time to take a break, then enjoy a pint and grab a bite to eat at the SAB World of Beer, one of Joburg’s top tourist attractions.